Monday, June 3, 2013

Labor Pains: Romans 8

The Apostle Paul and I share something in common. Neither of us have ever experienced labor pains, but that does not mean we will abstain from speaking of them as an illustration. Now, depending on your view of Paul’s biography, I may have a minor leg up in that I have been with someone through three sets of labor pains and he likely was not, but being there and being the one laboring are quite different.

Romans 8, though, uses the metaphor of childbirth to make a very clear point about the reality of the world we live in. Starting in Romans 8:18 and running through Romans 8:224, Paul underlines the contrast between the present suffering of creation and the future glory of eternity. Amidst that, he highlights the prominence of Christian believers in both of those aspects.

The comparison to childbirth makes the point well. There is the anticipation of something great, something that is partially known but not completely, yet it awaits on the other side of much pain and trouble. I can well remember waiting on our first two children to enter this world, not knowing if we would be seeing a little girl or a little boy. There was anticipation in the midst of the mystery and misery. There was that question—is this worth it?

I remember watching the pain and struggle on my beloved wife’s face as she went through the labor process. A few thoughts passed through my head. One of them being my responsibility for the pain she was in…another being about how the end of this, no matter how hard, was going to be worth it. And one being about how, no matter what, there would be a special bond between mother and child that would start at that point, and it would take years before Dad shared in it.

Then the pain got worse, and all I could see was the suffering. That’s it. Just the pain, just the frustration. The tears. When our son was born, I could see the strained look on the medical people’s face as they looked at blood pressures and saw them unhooking everything to roll down the hall for him to come out differently. That didn’t happen—the doctor took a last look and realized that he, after delaying to the point of trouble, was coming right then.

I think Paul is in those stages, and sees his fellow believers in those stages, when he writes this part of Romans 8. There is no fluffy “We can do this without pain medication!” talk anymore. There’s no watching M*A*S*H reruns (or baseball games!) on the LDR room TV. There is barely any thought of the outcome.

Just the painful process.

And he writes this to remind us a few important things:

1. You are not the only one suffering through the pains right now. It does not lighten your burden, true, but there is something to be said for not being alone. I will take Ann’s word for it, but she claims that having me there with her, even though I was not in pain, helped. Realize this: even though others are not suffering like you are, they are with you. They are there for you.

2. Go ahead and carry that image: it is the stuff of TV programs where the nurses, the doctor, and the patient are all pregnant and in labor at one time. In reality, there is one person going through the process and others are there to help. Some via expertise, some via presence. And some by staying away and keeping others safe, like Ann’s parents who had our other child/children both when the next one was born. If you are not in the midst of it, you are there to help others who are in it.

Alongside this: that is not the time to discuss how it happened. If you wanted to discuss family planning with us, during the birth our children was not the time. Nor was it the time to tell me about all my other shortcomings or how inadequate of a father I would be. One can address those things at a more appropriate time.

3. Paul points to the other side of suffering. He does not minimize the reality of it—after all, his view of birth pains did not include epidurals, sta-dol, or even Motrin for recovery. He simply focuses on the far side, the end-result and tells the Romans the suffering will be worth it.

That the suffering gives us the opportunity for hope, and that hope is what sustains us.

That’s a good thing, is it not?

We need the hope. The glorious thing about the hope we have in Christ is that there is no downside: there is a certainty that God will bring us through, that the result will be better than a baby that sleeps at night and smiles and snuggles all day long.

That is the hope of Christ. That God will, by the power of His Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus, bring about better than can be imagined. That we are not left to find the light and follow it, but are drawn by God and pulled in by His love.

Today’s Nerd Note: Romans cannot really be done justice with a chapter a post, but that’s all I’m doing. Read it, re-read it.

Get it all in context. Be careful of the oft-misrepresented passage at Romans 8:28. All things are not good. All things work together for our good. There is a substantial difference.

Further, this chapter gives us a great hold on the assurance of salvation. Read 8:26-39 again. Look at how God is the one who saves, ordains, predestines, and sustains. Nothing separates us not from our faith but from His love. That’s a beautiful difference—it is not our strength but His will.

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